Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cookie-cutter housing; I like it.

A row of attractive cookie-cutter homes in North London.
I love cities. I'm fond of the countryside, too, but it is cities that I love. As a boy I used to bike about my neighbourhood taking notes. On returning home I would add the stuff I had noted to a large map of the area. In my young mind, I was an explorer.

Mine was a "wartime housing" neighbourhood. My street was 52 similar homes on three city blocks --- a true cookie-cutter development. I learned to study those homes and note what had been done to add a little diversity. The siding was varied, some homes had shingles, others had wooden planking. The colour of the homes was varied with some grey, some white, some deep green . . . . The height of the homes varied as some were single floor homes and others were two floor. To prevent someone looking down the street and seeing 52 very similar homes in a very long row, the home were staggered on the lots. A short row of one floor homes might be forward on their lots, while a following row of two story homes would be placed farther back on their lots.

I noticed these same visual tricks were used in what I called the "brick home neighbourhood." Although the brick homes did not look to have all been built at the same time by the same builder, there were often two or three almost identical homes grouped together. One home might have yellow brick and the other red but they were the same style of home. Over the years I saw the insides of many of these homes and can attest that the layouts were identical.

And so, I have been left puzzled by the comments of writers critical of suburban developments. "Suburbs don't have to look like 'human filing cabinets' ", Randy Richmond of The London Free Press tells us. As if building a row of similar homes is unique to suburbia.

These writers toss about the 'cookie-cutter' remarks all too freely. There can be a beauty to repetition. It all comes down to what exactly is being repeated.

New urbanism, an approach to development favoured by these writers, results in very rule-guided structures. And this isn't a criticism. Rules can be good. Think Paris, France.

A new urbanist community north of Toronto.

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